Congregation Close-up: St. Bede’s, Forest Grove

Congregation Close-up: St. Bede’s, Forest Grove

By the Rev. Marlene Mutchler, vicar

This year St. Bede is embarking together on a period of discernment to distill its vocational vision as a unique Episcopal community in Forest Grove. We are doing something audacious in this: aiming to be cocreators with God in the New Jerusalem here at St. Bede.  It is a bold endeavor, but we are emboldened by the prayer, “Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.” Our trust in God will light our way.

Of course, there are dangers.  The path to the New Jerusalem at St. Bede will be paved with deep listening, conversations, and trial and error. Make no mistake, we will fail at times. We will disappoint one another and fall short. It will be hard work. Many of the miracles of God are wrought through the hard work of people striving together. The Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, Noah and his family built the ark through sweat and hard labor.

And we don’t do this alone.  We are blessed with amazing resources at St. Bede.  We have a wonderful discernment committee.  We also have the triune God and the Holy Spirit wending its way through this entire process. We have gifts of prayer, and spiritual practices, and a process developed with the help of diocesan facilitators at the Congregational Vitality Workshop last spring.

Our discernment process will continue until Epiphany 2020, a good time to see things more clearly – in Epiphany, the season of light. By then hopefully we will have 20/20 vision of our next steps. Our Lenten program in 2020 will consist of finding ways to make our vision a reality.

St. Bede’s Triquetra

Besides the regular meetings and conversations of our discernment committee, St. Bede will meet four times for congregational conversations focusing on various areas that are sources of transformation for us: Community Life, Christian Formation, Prayer and Worship, and Community Service.  We’ve chosen the triquetra, or Trinity knot, as a visual model because, as in the life of the Trinity, our life together at St. Bede dynamically impacts us as persons in discipleship, as a church, and our wider community. We hope in all of these conversations to synthesize our learning into a shared vision of where God is calling us as a community of disciples in service to the world.

Please pray for St. Bede as we begin to share and dream about where God may be leading us. Pray for us as we dare greatly together to understand what the New Jerusalem will mean for us here and now. Let us remember to love one another through the process as Christ loved us and pray that St. Bede’s will continue to develop as an axis mundi, a high place, where God’s love flows through us and into the world like a healing river.

Visit the St. Bede’s website.

Congregation Close-up: Trinity, Ashland

By Phyllis Reynolds and Carol Harvey
Co-facilitators, Trinity Celtic Team

New Life from Ancient Roots: Celtic Evensong and Communion at Trinity, Ashland.

Trinity Ashland has offered an alternate service inspired by the ancient Celtic Christian tradition since the fall of 2015. It occurs the third Sunday of each month from September through June. 

Initiated when rector Tony Hutchinson asked retired rector Anne Bartlett to create a Celtic Evensong service, it has grown to become a vibrant part of spiritual offerings for the church and community. Attendance quickly grew from 50-60 in early months, up to 135-145 for special occasions, to an average of 95 to 100, causing people to come earlier and earlier to find seats in our cozy 19th century church. Attendance is drawn not only from Trinity, but at least half from other churches, faith traditions, or no affiliation at all, with regulars from Medford and Grants Pass, and always including visiting clergy.

The evensong is created each month by the Celtic Team of 12-14 who plan and carry out the nitty-gritty work of each service: altar, set-up, greeter/usher, reading, chalice, clean-up, announcements, publicity, before or after social events, classes, forums, half or whole day training, festival days, labyrinth walks, and putting together the extensive bulletin for each service. The team is comprised of lay members with only three clergy, two retired, for this is meant to be lay-led with clergy crucial as celebrants and consultants, but serving at the edges. Vital also to the Evensong experience is music directed by Jodi French, gifted composer and pianist, and cantor Shelly Cox-Thornhill, mezzo soprano. The entire team is lively and diverse and has learned to operate beautifully to produce a smooth performance each month.       

In an effort to fulfill Trinity’s Vision/Mission to “express God’s ever-present love, recognize grace in all creation….seek and serve Christ in all persons…. care for one another and stranger alike,” this service aims to draw in seekers of all kinds, those unchurched or spiritually wounded, as well as those of us who seek new and fresh ways to worship. It is meant to be experiential, rather than teacherly. In words from our brochure, “The Celtic Worship is intentionally heart-opening.” To help achieve our goals, “trigger” words are kept to a minimum, there are no sermons or creeds or confessions. A person from the congregation or a guest from another faith community briefly reflects on his or her own experience of Holy Presence.  Poetry and prayers are earthy, holy, and inclusive. A liturgical subgroup of the team have become searchers across cultures and times, gleaners of resonant words, encouragers and editors for those who have had thin place experiences to share as reflectors. Readings, gospel choices, and prayers are all intentionally selected to enhance a focused theme established for each month. We draw selections from across time, faith traditions and cultures, from 14th C. Persian poet Hafiz, to Buddhism, to the Qu’ran, to Julian of Norwich, the Carmina Gaedelica, Seamus Heaney, John Philip Newell, John O’Donohue, Mary Oliver, and Winnie the Pooh, among many others—anything that resonates with the meditative stream, the God-in-all-of-us-and-in-all-creation.

The core liturgical structure for the service comes solidly from the Anglican tradition (U.S., Canada, New Zealand Prayer Books) and from the ancient and modern Celtic communities of Iona and Northumbria. We are indebted to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church Richmond, Virginia for the generous sharing of their well-honed Celtic service, in both materials and in person as three team members visited there in 2016. We are indebted to Trinity’s vestry for initial funding, mainly for musicians, and for a grant from the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon Foundation, which has allowed us to expand music, provide simple refreshments for special occasions, and funding for educational and special events. Generous voluntary contributions have created a savings fund which will allow the service to be self-sustaining after our grant expires in 2020.

In addition to the rewards of seeing sustained attendance and the kudos and encouragement received from people who attend, we are seeing growth of a different kind—the internalizing of meditative practice, perhaps even a deepening understanding of “Spirit.” We have seen a shift from the normal tendency for chatty pews before a service, to a unity of meditative silence in a group of 100 diverse folks, many of whom we don’t know. We have seen people who claim indifference or even hostility to the whole idea of “God,” share through a brief five minute reflection, stirring spiritual experiences in words not confessional or embarrassing, but profound and surprising. We have seen people sit silently longer and longer before the service to decompress into a liminal opening space.

Those of us who work to put the service on each month, attending to the myriad behind the scenes practical details, lose ourselves and all thoughts of stress along with the others, as pews fill silently, soft Celtic harp music begins, lights go down, candles flicker, the opening reading resonates in slow cadence, and cantor Shelly’s voice gently fills the silence with “To Christ the Seed.”’ Our thin place of Celtic Evensong begins.

“Our mission is to offer a worship experience rooted
in the Christian Celtic tradition that is welcoming…
ecumenical and interfaith.”

Visit the Trinity website.

Congregation Close-up: Emmanuel, Coos Bay

Submitted by Dave Laird (Senior Warden), Kerri Coldren (Administrator), Al Rumsch (Vestry), and the parishioners of Emmanuel Church

It’s been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but in our case, it takes a congregation of dedicated, committed and caring individuals to raise our church.

Without a priest since late January, the whole congregation of Emmanuel has stepped up and filled vital roles.  For example, parishioners in leadership roles agreed to serve another year to ease the transition to a new priest. Musicians, altar guild, and lay readers all came together to form a worship team and did incredible service to our church.  Individual parishioners volunteer many hours a week in our outreach ministries, not to mention our columbarium, our financial committees, vestry, and taking care of our grounds and building. 

One of our most exciting ministry programs is our state certified day care program.  The Emmanuel Preschool serves children from newborns through preschool ages from early morning to late afternoon.  Emmanuel received a three year grant from the Episcopal Bishop of Oregon Foundation to help get us going.  We’re starting the third year of the grant this September.

The Food Cupboard, run by mostly Emmanuel volunteers and others from the community, serves thousands of hungry people each year.  Emmanuel donates space to the Food Cupboard and helps support its mission through donations of food, time, talent and money.

Our vision as a congregation is to serve as a “light on the hill.”  Our church sits proudly on a hill above the town. 

Since the current building was built here in the early 1950s, we have strived to be an example to the community.  The church building itself, the style and architecture, is part of an aspirational vision.  Since the first construction, parishioners have added a copper covered steeple and beautiful stain glass windows.  The inside of the church reflects the hull of a ship symbolizing the togetherness of all inside the church.  We hope our presence and spirit will draw more to the church and our worship.

Emmanuel Coos Bay website

Congregation Close-up: St. Michael & All Angels, Portland

In the Hollywood neighborhood of northeast Portland, St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church is well known within the diocese for their long-standing Misa service. As the church prepares to celebrate 25 years of worshipping in Spanish, the Rev. Chris Craun smiles, reflecting on how the service started and continues to grow and develop as the congregation faithfully goes into the places of challenge and discomfort created by being a bilingual and multicultural community.

Beginning as a small group gathered around the altar with the Rev. John Scannell and the Rev. Deacon Marla McGarry-Lawrence, the Spanish-speaking community transformed over the years from an outreach ministry to an integrated part of the church’s life. During a 2017-2018 parish visioning process, a significant amount of time was given to listening to and learning the stories of church members. One exercise involved building a map with photos of parishioners, their houses, and answers to the question, “Where else is home?” For many in the Latino community, St. Michael’s was that other home: a place to be known, and safe, and seen.

Celebrating Dia de los Niños

Chris credits this sharing of stories and experiences with strengthening the congregation’s willingness and ability to embrace resilience, which the vision process identified as a core value. Resilience is a necessary characteristic for a congregation that continues learning how to engage its bilingual and multicultural makeup.

During Lent this year, the church offered introductory Spanish lessons, creating an opportunity for English-speakers to take steps in vulnerability and courage. In her commitment to be the rector of the entire church body, Chris has spent significant time developing her Spanish skills and learning about Latino culture, determined to overcome her own discomfort and fear of looking foolish while modeling humility and a willingness to engage in spite of the mistakes that inevitably happen in cross-cultural relationships.

Building Beloved Community is a long process that The Episcopal Church symbolizes with a labyrinth, and St. Michael’s experience bears out the reality of this metaphor. Throughout many twists and turns, coming to this 25th Celebration of the Misa is a recognition that the English- and Spanish-language speakers of St. Michael’s are deeply committed to God and to each other.

Visit the St. Michael & All Angels website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Luke’s, Grants Pass

By the Rev. Ernestein Flemister, rector

St. Luke’s is excited about becoming more active in our outreach. We are a part of the Grants Pass community and we want to show up in and for our community. A part of our call as disciples of Jesus is to live in witness to the “Good News” that Jesus Christ shared with us. That Good News is not just for us within the four walls of our church, we want to be nurturing of all of God’s people. We don’t want to show up in a way that says we will do this for you but in and through partnerships that listens and finds out how we fit in and how we can help.

We had our vestry retreat in January and we began to discuss things that we thought would interest the congregation in getting more involved with the community of Grants Pass. In our efforts to get moving, the vestry establish three committees: Outreach, Social Justice and Fund Raising. We talked to the congregation and asked them to volunteer for the committee that interested them.  The Outreach Committee received a good number of volunteers and have suggested ideas to get us up and running. The approach is to build more relationships in the community where we ask what their needs are and determine ways in which we can become an active and committed part of helping to make Grants Pass a home for everyone.

Pillowcases sewn by members of St. Luke’s Quilting Group for children in the foster care system.

Two ideas in particular have gathered steam: in conjunction with partners in the area we are finding out if a monthly breakfast for the community is needed.  The other idea is to renovate our basement, install washing machines and dryers to allow the homeless to have a place to wash and dry their clothes without cost to them.

We are forming partnerships with other churches and community organizations to maximize resources so they can reach the most people. We are excited about the possibilities of our outreach efforts and we pray that God will bless our efforts so that we can be a blessing to our community. As we make efforts to contribute to Grants Pass, I believe that we will grow in God’s spirit and show generosity to those who need our love and support.

May God prosper the works of our hands.

Visit the St. Luke’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Martin’s, Shady Cove

Nestled on the banks of the Rogue River in northern Jackson County, Shady Cove is a city of almost 3,000 people. St. Martin’s Episcopal Church has many close ties within the community, including counting amongst its members the mayor, a city planner, and volunteers with Friends of the Library. They also cheerfully participate in community activities such as the city’s annual Chili Cookoff despite being “robbed” of victory every year by the Fire Department.

Once dependent upon the timber industry, the local economy has suffered in recent decades. The Rev. Deacon Allan Miles recounts that church members devote many hours, day and night, to reach out in various way to people who need help. In this independent area, there is a high value on neighbors supporting neighbors without relying on government help, and the people of St. Martin’s believe it is their calling as Christians to take care of people regardless of their affiliation with the church.

One growing ministry of St. Martin’s is their Laundry Love program. About a year ago, volunteers started going to a local laundromat once a month to provide soap, dryer sheets, and coins to run the machines. Now they go twice a month, and share the observation that while there are some homeless people who come, the majority of Laundry Love participants are people who work but just don’t earn enough to cover all their expenses.

It is similar at the monthly food pantry, where St. Martin’s offers food for humans and pets alike. In the summertime, fresh local gardens provide fresh produce, while a woman with a soft spot for animals gives a substantial financial gift every month to buy animal food. This addresses an important need of many elder people, for whom a dog or cat is a precious source of company and comfort.

The environment of Shady Cove also influences church activities. In the summer, they hold picnics on the riverfront properties of church members to foster a sense of fun and community. The Rogue River also played an important role in the church’s Easter weekend services. On Good Friday, members walked through town from the church down to the river, taking turns carrying a wooden cross and stopping to observe the Stations of the Cross along the way. Then on Easter Sunday, they used water from the river for a baptism.

In June, priest Tom Buechele will be retiring, but the friendly, tight-knit community of St. Martin’s will continue caring for each other and their neighbors with love, laughter, and dedication.

Visit the St. Martin’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Mary the Virgin, Gardiner

St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Gardiner is an historic church with a 111 year presence in the community. On a hill overlooking the local rivers, it is lovingly run and maintained through the cooperative efforts of faithful members.

With the challenge of decreasing church membership from an aging and once thriving community, responsibilities for all have increased and overlapped. Some days, the organist might also read the lessons, or the lay preacher will read the sermon and then wash dishes during coffee hour. The two prevalent characteristics of St. Mary parishioners are support for the church and outreach to their community.

Members volunteer of themselves to care for both the physical and spiritual life of the church. They maintain the physical structure, prepare the paperwork, and oversee the finances. With monthly input from a supply priest, the Rev. Frank Moss, parishioners lead the worship services, run an active Episcopal Church Women group, and provide many other types of support within the congregation.

Their ministry also extends into their community with outreach to the local food bank, teacher appreciation events, a Thanksgiving dinner, and regularly conducting vespers at a local nursing home. The church is also a temporary emergency site for all of Gardiner, with a Citizens Emergency Response Team (CERT) disaster container of supplies stored on the property.

Its history, selfless volunteerism, outreach, and seamless operation allows St. Mary to serve, thrive, and offer personal growth for its members and enhance the community in which they live.

St. Mary offers a warm hand of hospitality to join us at our 10:00 Sunday morning service, and experience our historic landmark and vintage ambience.

Congregation Close-up: St. Matthias, Cave Junction

By the Rev. Bryant C. Bechtold, long-term supply priest

St. Matthias Episcopal Church has represented a viable Episcopal presence in both Cave Junction and the Illinois Valley since the early 1950s. Like many parishes, the congregational fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years. Currently, we are a very small but dedicated congregation that is determined to add to the valued history of St. Matthias’ presence in this area of southwest Oregon.

I would characterize St. Matthias by two areas of ministry: worship and social outreach. Each Sunday we do our best to offer sound worship that reflects the best of the Episcopal Church’s rich liturgical tradition. We believe that our major task as a parish is to gather together in fellowship to worship God by glorifying and praising his most holy name. We find that sharing together in worship strengthens us as a family and defines all else that we do as a people of God.

Our parish is perhaps best known for our Harvest Kitchen, which provides a substantial lunch two days a week to our community. While some in Cave Junction do not approve or appreciate this ministry (in fact someone once referred to our parish as nothing but a glorified soup kitchen), we believe profoundly in our Lord’s call to serve those in need without passing judgement on who they are or what their particular lifestyle might be. It is our belief that both our parish and the patrons of the Harvest Kitchen are able to grow in love and knowledge of our Lord through this vital ministry to our community. We are satisfied if the patrons of the Harvest Kitchen—when they look at us as we greet them with a smile, hello and meal—can see in us the face of Christ.

Congregation Close-up: St. Mark’s, Medford

Building for the Future with a major expansion project

By the Rev. Tom Sramek, Jr., rector of St. Mark’s, Medford

As we move toward our 130th Anniversary on June 18, 2019, St. Mark’s is poised to move confidently into the future with new energy as a growing, thriving church in Southern Oregon. Our $2 million “Building For the Future” (BFF) Capital Project will be completed this summer, adding over 7,000 square feet of office, classroom, kitchen, library, social hall, food pantry storage, and restroom space to our church building. We look forward to engaging with the surrounding community in new and expanded ways with our new facilities.

At the same time as the excitement over our anniversary grows and our building also grows, we recognize the need to grow into new ways of being church in the twenty-first century. Within our congregation, this means experimenting with more gender-inclusive Eucharistic liturgy, establishing and sustaining small “dinner groups” to help people know one another better, building a robust year-round stewardship plan, and strengthening and refining our process of inviting new people, welcoming them, and connecting them to our common life.

In our neighborhood, new ways of being church involves expanding our food pantry capacity, strengthening our relationship with other nonprofit partners to serve the community more effectively together, and increasingly becoming advocates for social justice in our city. We are also looking towards creating a strategic plan for 2020 and beyond that will likely include both intentional welcome of our LGBTQ+ faith siblings and providing a sanctuary for those who have been traumatized by their experiences of other Christian faith traditions.

Our relatively new mission statement asserts that we are people devoted to “Sharing Christ’s love by feeding people in body, mind, and spirit.” We look forward to living out that mission and continuing to gather the physically, intellectually, and spiritually hungry from Medford and across the Rogue Valley.

Visit the St. Mark’s website.

Congregation Close-up: St. Thomas, Dallas

In a town of roughly 15,000 people, St. Thomas is a church dependent on lay members and deeply engaged with the Dallas community. Vicar Fred Heard says, “We are a family and that is how we function. Occasionally we have family squabbles, but we come together and recognize we are Christ-centered.”

Whether it’s for their family-and-friends Thanksgiving dinner or people who came in when the church was open as a winter warming shelter, St. Thomas welcomes all who come through their doors.

In 2017 members of St. Thomas helped organize a Rally Against Hate at the Polk County Courthouse.

St. Thomas is committed to promoting community health. They were the first church in Dallas to open their doors for meetings of 12 Step programs, and currently host weekly meetings for AA, Al-Anon, and Weightwatchers. In 2018, when a local gun shop owner was raffling off AR-15 weapons, church members went to the school board and the city council to express their concern.

This dedication to family, community, and health also expresses itself in fun: this past Valentine’s Day, the congregation stepped out to spread love throughout the town by taking cookies to businesses, service personnel, and their neighbors to say “Thank you!”

Visit the St. Thomas website.